Data Center Security Explained: Concepts & Standards

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Did you know that in the U.S. the average cost of a data breach is a whopping $8.64 million?

As a business, securing your data must be your #1 priority. Data centers store personal, confidential and financial information about their customers, stakeholders and employers. Criminals can exploit such information, costing businesses millions of dollars to investigate and remediate. The damage is not only monetary — it can have significant impact on your brand image.

Cyber threats and hackers are not the only sources of data breaches:

  • Accidental exposure of data due to weak security measures can be equally damaging.
  • Poor configuration of your applications and software can make your data security vulnerable.

For instance, out-of-date and unpatched software or software that is pre-configured to run on default mode can be easier to target and attack. In fact, such attacks have occurred on a massive scale.

Data Center Security Explained: Concepts & Standards

Data security is not just necessary to defend against external threats but also to protect the company from insider attacks. Such attacks can cause more damage because of accessibility to the organization’s network. These occur in different forms, such as:

  • Vulnerabilities associated with software
  • Unauthorized access
  • Eavesdropping

The attacks and vulnerabilities are reasons why securing your data center (both physically and virtually) is a must. So, in this article, let’s look at data center security – what it entails, how to achieve it.

What is data center security?

Before diving into data center security, you must understand what a data center contains. A data center is a facility that houses the IT infrastructure of a company. IT operations are an integral part of any functioning business. Data centers house a network of computers, telecommunication and storage systems that process, manage and store company data.

With cloud adoption, some companies use a cloud service provider (CSP) to store their data instead of building their own data center. While this is cost effective, it can make the data more vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches if poorly configured. Therefore, to protect company data—such as intellectual property documents, trade secrets, customer information and other confidential information—security measures must be applied.

Data center security encompasses the protection of both the physical infrastructure and the virtual environment (i.e., cloud) of a business, including the practices, measures, applications, and technologies that protect your data from system vulnerabilities and cyberthreats.

(See how security operations centers & threat modeling help protect data centers, too.)

Who needs data center security?

With the increasing reliability on GPUs and IoT devices, data production has increased exponentially. This increase gave rise to the Big Data era, the time when businesses and organizations shifted to a data-centric paradigm.

As a result, the financial sector designs customer acquisition strategies based on customer behavior data. The ecommerce sector targets customers based on data about their likes, interests and customer profile. Similarly, the health sector has also adapted to the data-centric paradigm. Hospitals use patient records to predict medical conditions, prevent infection, and improve recommendations.

Businesses in all fields are leveraging the power of data to boost growth. Therefore, every business must invest in data center security. Even though on-premises data centers are relatively safer, most companies prefer to use a third-party service provider and house their data on the cloud. Importantly, no matter where your data is stored, data center security is crucial — and you’re still responsible for it.

Data center security standards: Steps to take

There are several data center security standards, especially those defined by:

  • The International Standards Organization (ISO)
  • The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA)

These associations set acceptable norms and security requirements that must be followed and provide guidelines for companies to ensure their data is well protected. Below, we discuss some of the most essential data center security standards.

Protecting physical network infrastructure

Security standards vary based on the type of data center your business is built upon. If your business subscribes to a third-party cloud service provider for data management and storage, then you use a public cloud data center. Although there is reason to be concerned about data security, companies nevertheless have ties with such service providers (e.g., Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure).

Although CSPs operate under the shared responsibility model, it is essential that you investigate the security standards of your service provider. They must provide cloud security and have evidently achieved security standards and certifications.

The shift to virtual cloud storage systems has increased the frequency of cyberthreats and data breaches. Still, threats on physical data centers can be equally, if not more, damaging. Businesses mist prioritize securing their physical network infrastructure.

Physical data storage can include both shared data centers and private on-premises data centers:

  • With shared data centers, several companies share their servers in one center.
  • With private data centers, you build your own data center that is not shared with other companies; this is generally considered a more secure option.

Physical infrastructure security becomes crucial when you have an on-premises data center. While constructing the infrastructure of the data center, you’ll to consider several key aspects, such as:

  • The location. The geographic location of your data center must be secure from natural disasters, such as floods or extreme heat.
  • The physical structure. The infrastructure must be housed in a building that meets standard requirements (e.g., emergency exits, fire alarms, sufficient ventilation).
  • The overall design. The infrastructure design must be planned in such a way that the data center performs at high efficiency. For instance, there must be a backup power supply, cooling fans, etc. to regulate power failure/fluctuations or any other problematic situations.

Finally, orienting around sustainability practices can be both energy-efficient and secure-minded.

Surveillance monitoring system

Traditional CCTV cameras are crucial to monitor access points within the office hallways and at the data center itself. (You’ll also want to secure and backup the CCTV footage.) Maintaining a log of visitors, including employees, is also important. It is beneficial to follow the zero-trust approach and keep an eye out at all access points.

(Learn more in our Essential Guide to Zero Trust.)

Limiting access points

Data breaches are often the result of unmonitored or unauthorized access. It is crucial to keep a record of the access permissions of all employees. Not all employees require access to the servers and databases. An IT or system administrator should:

  1. Monitor and routinely audit access permissions.
  2. Ensure only limited access is provided to most employees.

Additional security layers

Following a multi-layered security approach is an effective technique to prevent bad guys from accessing sensitive data. These additional measures can include simple biometric access systems, multi-factor authorization, or a combination of both.

Data Center Security Explained: Concepts & Standards

Data backup measures

There is another old-school measure that helps keep your business running: simple data backup. Not only must you have a strategy and method to back up data, but also backup infrastructure in case there is an equipment failure. Make sure to perform regular data backups so you can be prepared to keep your business going even in the face of cyberthreats.

Data center security gives you confidence

Your data is the identity and fuel of your business. It is important that you secure your data center to keep your business safe from external threats. This includes implementing security measures on your physical infrastructure by monitoring the temperature and humidity, ensuring sufficient insulation on high-voltage supplies, etc. Restricting access to servers, setting up firewalls and implementing biometric authorization are additional recommended practices.

You should now have a solid idea of what data center security entails and how you can protect your data.

What is Splunk?


This article was written by Zulaikha Greer, a tech enthusiast with expertise in various domains such as data science, ML and statistics. She enjoys researching cognitive science, marketing, and design. A cat lover who loves to read, you can often find her with a book, enjoying legendary pieces from Beethoven, Mozart and Vivaldi.

This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk’s position, strategies or opinion.

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